“I am working here for more than 20 years and during this time none of the elders or even a kid spoke harshly to me” – the 70 year old man told me, while clipping the grass at the lawn of the Parsi Place of Worship.
“I am their employee and they are always so polite to their workers”, he added.
I guess Baba realized I wanted to know more, and this encouraged him to look back and reminisce. “Once some leaders from the community visited while I was having my lunch. I was about to leave it halfway and get up, in order to serve them. They simply asked me to finish my lunch, take rest and only then come and serve them. That’s how they were, always!” He fondly remembered.
My journey to this amazing place kick-started when a couple of months back my friend told me about the existence of a Parsi Place of Worship somewhere at Murree Road, Rawalpindi. As I have a keen interest in heritage buildings and old architecture, I kept on searching for this place. I asked around, spoke to people residing in the area but none of them had any idea about such a place!
The irony of the situation is that most of the people living in Rawalpindi (or may be in other cities as well) are too busy with their own lives and do not have the time to look around or know much about their own locality, even if it is right next door. No wonder, this sheer neglect and indifference is turningour historic landmarks into ruins, right in front of our eyes.
Anyway, after many such visits around the city, I finally managed to find out the exact location of the place and one fine Sunday morning I went out to visit the place.
As it is, Murree Road is the commercial hub of Rawalpindi city. Moreover, near the Benazir Bhutto Hospital there is a sprawling jewelry market and one cannot even imagine that amidst this congested area there could exist a historic landmark!
However, it is a fact that hidden behind these lavish jewelry shops, there is indeed the Parsi Worship Place that I had been looking for. I already knew that such a place, according to Parsi traditions, would be called a “Fire Temple” and I was excited that finally I had my chance to explore it in detail.
As I reached the area, close to the location, I came across a commercial place, and took the lane behind it.
My earlier experience with several old Temples and Gurdwaras had prepared me well and I was expecting to walk into an old building in ruins, its architecture in shambles, its walls crumbling and the ever-present foul smell of garbage rising from its grounds.
And here came a pleasant surprise as I came face to face with a completely different scene! A red-bricked single story building stands there. Neat, clean and well-maintained. The path below was shadowed and lined with rows of tall trees of Evergreen and Dates variety. It was a treat for the eye and I was taken by surprise, almost awestruck.
One the right hand side there stood an old colonial style building and in front there was a gate to the Parsi Graveyard. A lush green lawn surrounded the building and an old man was busy with his gardening tools, digging the clay and cutting the grass. It was a peaceful scene.
The stone plate at the gate of read:
together with the buildings well and compound wall was erected to perpetuate the memory of the late Set Jahangiriji Framji Jussawala
Set Jamasji Hormasji Bogha
both of the Rawalpindi Parsi merchants
by their respective grandsons
Set Dorabji Cowasji Jussawala
Set Nasarwanji Jehangiriji Bogha
Shahshai month Tir 1367, January 1898”
The graveyard was also very calm and clean.
I asked the old man(the gardener)if the Place of Worship was still functional.
“Yes” he nodded, “There are some 30 to 40 Parsi families in Rawalpindi and whenever someone passes away in their community they perform funeral and religious rituals here”
Given that we all know that there was a Parsi community (mostly merchants) in Rawalpindi, some hundred years ago, it was indeed news for me that they still live in Rawalpindi in present day and time!
The old gardener also informed me that this place belongs to the owner of a famous brewery company and they often visit this place to pay homage to their elders buried at this graveyard.
I also noticed that the doors to the building arekept locked and the whole premises is well taken care of.
While walking back,what I felt was immense joy and relief that a place of worship, which belongs to a minority community of Pakistan, is well managed and looked after.
All I can wish for is to see our tolerance towards the other religious minorities in Pakistan and that we live along with each other in harmony, peace and prosperity.
Text and Photos by: Shiraz Hassan